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New Age Food: Self Regulating GMOs

By Theodora Filis

In the US, Genetically Modified Organisims (GMOs) fall under regulatory jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Association (EPA). Now, more than ever, environmentalists are complaining that policies and regulations are insufficient and poorly organized. Many worry corporate influence over policy has led to a dangerous level of "self-regulation" by biotech companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Scotts.

Mandatory labeling of GMOs and biotech companies allowed to self-regulate are causing heated debates. Debates that have caused a significant increase in the amount of valuable information regarding GMOs, but has not helped to stop the planting or the “gene-flow” of GMO seeds world-wide.

Gene-flow, the process by which a gene will move through wind-blown pollen and work its way into non-modified varieties, has already been well-established for GMO corn, GMO alfalfa, and other modified crops.

Already on the verge of regulatory collapse, the USDA “surprised” everyone last week with a press release titled: "USDA Responds to Regulation Requests Regarding Kentucky Bluegrass," the USDA announced their decision to deregulate a "Roundup Ready" strain of Kentucky bluegrass. GMO Kentucky Bluegrass seed was engineered to withstand glyphosate, Monsanto's widely used herbicide, known as Roundup. Allowing, Scotts Miracle Gro, the maker of this novel grass seed, to plant and sell without restrictions.

Even more surprising than the press release was a letter to Scotts Miracle-Gro, by USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsak, as an addendum to the agency's response to Scott's GMO bluegrass petition. In Vilsack's letter, dated July 1, he acknowledges concerns that GMO bluegrass will contaminate non-GMO bluegrass, and acknowledges that the Roundup Ready gene will move through wind-blown pollen and work its way into non-GMO varieties.

“The USDA recognizes that if this GE variety were to be commercially released, producers wishing to grow non-GE Kentucky bluegrass will likely have concerns related to gene flow between the GE variety and non-GE Kentucky bluegrass. Exporters of Kentucky bluegrass seed, growers of non-GE Kentucky bluegrass seed, and those involved in the use of non-GE Kentucky bluegrass in pastures will likely have concerns about the loss of their ability to meet contractual obligations.” said Vilsack

GMO Kentucky bluegrass has already shown up in organic cow pastures and beef. Organic farmers, due to gene-flow, now face the risk of their animals eating from fields of GMO crops – jeopardizing their organic status.

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requires that the USDA conduct an environmental impact study for all the crops it deregulates. But to deregulate a crop, the agency has to regulate it first.

So, how did the USDA get away with deregulating GMO bluegrass, without having to regulate it first?

I think USDA used, what is referred to as a “quick kick” in American football. GMO Crops that must be regulated fall under "regulatory status" – "plant pest" status and "noxious weed" status. The USDA conveniently placed GMO bluegrass into neither of those categories, but instead placed bluegrass under the broad variety of “novel crops” that do not need to be regulated before deregulating.

Huh? Confused? Good, then it worked. Touchdown for the biotech industry!

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